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Projector and Projection Screen Manufacturers Play to the Multipurpose Room Market

Projector-centered home theaters have always been about the bigger, better picture.

This Integration Guide to Projectors and Screens was sponsored by AV Stumpfl, Draper, Elite Screens, JVC, and Vutec as a supplement to Residential Systems, October 2014.

This room features Draper’s Profile screen, a permanently tensioned screen that can be ordered in custom sizes and aspect ratios. The company recently introduced the TecVision surface to provide excellent color reproduction while overcoming moderate ambient light in a room. Projector-centered home theaters have always been about the bigger, better picture. In the past five years alone, everything from lamps to lenses to screen materials have been tweaked and redesigned to reflect this desire for sharper images while acknowledging that the ideal dark, renovated, isolated home theater setup has given way in many affluent homes to multipurpose entertainment rooms that require compromises to tap into the full picture quality output of both projectors and screens.

“Consumers everywhere are excited about emerging new technologies such as Ultra HD [4K] video projectors, those with laser and LED illumination sources for much longer system life and trouble-free performances, and the growing number of higher light output projectors to fit the new multipurpose theater/media room—such rooms in the home with higher ambient light characteristics than found in traditional light-controlled theaters,” noted Jim McGall, director of sales for projector manufacturer, Wolf Cinema.

Indeed, an anecdotal survey of both projector and projection screen manufacturers have found that beyond the anticipated wider acceptance of 4K as the new resolution standard, LED and laser illumination are ongoing product developmental concerns for projection-based, custom-designed home theaters.

“With desired screen sizes continuing to grow as well as the desire to fit more seating into a home theater, having 8.8 million actual pixels on the screen is very meaningful for mid- to high-end screening rooms,” added Andre Floyd, Sony Electronics’ product manager of home entertainment and sound. “The additional benefit of SXRD technology is that it allows us to make extremely small pixels and place them extremely close together so that with one’s nose to the screen it is still very difficult to pick out individual pixels in a flat field, let alone in a moving video.”

The Evolution of Projectors

Home theaters would be pointless if the resulting images were not exceptional. With 4K resolution on the brink of becoming the newest standard for all pro-level display products, projector manufacturers have actively integrated this capability alongside more practical innovations (the aforementioned LED lighting, laser illumination) that extend the life of projectors even further.

Stewart Filmscreen says that its lab tests have proven that the accuracy of FireHawk G4 screen material is significantly better than other popular solutions developed for high ambient light environments. “For the residential market, creative solutions to the limited LED light output are allowing Digital Projection to develop the brightest LED projection solutions available while simultaneously delivering a color gamut that tracks alongside the Rec 2020 color space,” said Michael Bridwell, vice president of marketing and home entertainment for the company. “The INSIGHT 4K LED’s color performance plus full 4096 x 2160 4K resolution combination separates it from all other elite projection solutions.”

Additionally, DPI’s new INSIGHT 4K LASER projector also enlists lamp-free illumination technology to bring advanced performance and value to the market. In this case, it’s a laser plus phosphor wheel combination, which delivers 12,000 lumens of screen-filling brightness for discerning theaters, as well as outdoor screens needing to fight ambient light.

Still, 4K is setting the beat for the latest custom integration-grade projectors, and just about every manufacturer has made that an engineering priority, including Wolf Cinema, whose best-selling projector is the GrayWolf 4K, model SDC-12.

“This reasonably priced three-chip D-ILA projector is bright, dynamic, color accurate, with deep black levels, fast refresh rates, and more,” McGall said. “It excels in both 2D and 3D viewing, on screens as large as 12-feet wide. The built-in VariScope optics enable viewers to easily and accurately fit 1.78:1 [16/9], 1.85, 2.20, 2.35 and 2.40:1 content onto their ’Scope screen, with lens memories recalled at the touch of a button. But the most compelling feature here is the projector’s ability to accept SD, HD and 4K sources, and display them at the full UHD on-screen resolution [3840 x 2160]. The remarkable V4K technology permits one to basically put your nose right on the screen, and see what looks like ‘film’ without any visible pixel structure.”

Sony Electronics employs full 4K imagers (4096 x 2160 x 3 chips) for its VPL-VW series of projectors, with the VPL-VW1100ES and VPL-VW600ES providing contrast ratios of 1,000,000:1 and 200,000:1, respectively. Sony employs full 4K imagers (4096 x 2160 x 3 chips) for its VPL-VW series of projectors, with the VPL-VW1100ES and VPLVW600ES providing contrast ratios of 1,000,000:1 and 200,000:1, respectively.

“Both models also include our Reality Creation upscaling engine, which allows users to enjoy the benefits of true 4K resolution even when watching sports on TV or movies on Blu-ray disc,” Sony’s Floyd explained. “For integrators, the VW600 in particular provides features like smaller size, front exhaust, wide lens throw ratio and more than 80-percent vertical lens shift, making it easy to install this model in a wide array of home theaters including ones with size and mounting limitations.”

JVC’s proprietary 4K e-Shift3 shifts sub-frames by 0.5 pixels, both vertically and horizontally to achieve four times the pixel density of the original content, according to the company. The technology features prominently in JVC’s DILA (Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier) projectors.

“This technology achieves the highest contrast ratios in the industry,” said Roger West, general manager, for JVC’s Home Entertainment Division. “The current models take contrast to a new level by adding an Intelligent Lens Aperture. When engaged, the Intelligent Lens Aperture opens or closes to provide deeper blacks or brighter whites, as needed for a particular scene. Intelligent Lens Aperture is unique in that it offers a level of performance that would not be possible without the outstanding Native Contrast that JVC offers as a foundation.”

In addition to a focus on image quality, Barco has a stated goal to “enable new custom architectural video solutions using innovations such as ultra-short throw lenses, which open up a world of possibilities for integrators and end-users,” according to Tim Sinnaeve, Barco’s managing director, Canada. To that end, the company’s Orion Cinemascope combined with this lens allows integrators to create a custom-built giant screen “TV” that can be integrated into homes with limited space.

With an eye on providing the “ultimate” theater projector, Christie’s Digital Cinema line of projectors, including the CP4220 and the CP2215, both of which provide connectivity to any Digital Cinema source, and the D4K2560. “It offers integrators and end-users a unique value proposition, featuring unprecedented image quality in native Cinemascope resolution in a compact and silent projector package, while featuring an attractive high-end design and class-leading build quality,” Sinnaeve said. “The differentiation from off-the-shelf 16/9 consumer products with native Cinemascope aspect ratio creates new opportunities for the integrator, and thanks to the Orion Cinemascope, masked projection screens could become a standard even in sub- $100K home theaters, delivering a wow factor that adds excitement to the home theater experience for the end-user.”

With an eye on providing the “ultimate” theater projector, Christie’s Digital Cinema line of projectors, including the CP4220 and the CP2215, both of which provide connectivity to any Digital Cinema source, and the D4K2560, which provides the highest resolution at up to 120Hz refresh for alternate video content.

In addition to high resolution,” said George Walter, Christie’s director of home entertainment, “the projectors offer programmable lens control with memory and all the advanced color setup features for the most advanced video and imaging applications.”

Specializing in what it refers to as “architectural video systems,” Display Development gears its projectors toward integrators faced with requests for discreet projector placement in multipurpose media rooms.

“Across the board we have designed options to properly encase the projector in a concealed space for noise isolation,” said Scott Varner, sales manager for Display Development. “Historically this has been a variable in the reliability of the systems dealers have installed and for some they have avoided this type of install for fear of thermal issues, relying rather on low-power units that hang in free space in the room. Our Smart Cooling Systems ensure that every system our dealers install will run cool, quiet and reliably for years to come.”

Varner went on to note that the company is seeing quick adoption of its wall-mounted and ceiling mounted solutions, which isolate the projector from the room and use optical systems to redirect the light path into the viewing area.

Changing Surfaces

While 4K is also exerting great influence on the materials projection screen manufacturers are developing to match their projector counterparts, ambient light rejection (ALR) has become of increasing importance as the definition of a home theater shifts from a dedicated space to multipurpose rooms, and as two-piece projection continues to hold its own against the ubiquitous flat-panel display.

“The holy grail of projection screen performance has always been considered to be ‘flat-panel’ brightness and clarity even when the lights would be on,” said David Rodgers, marketing manager for Elite Screens. “We have now arrived at that threshold. The basic premise is to create a highly reflective projection surface that will filter out all luminance but the direct light from the projector.”

For practical and aesthetic considerations, AV Stumpfl’s framed screen, DecoFrame, is customizable to any aspect ratio to fit any wall needed for projection within a polished frame. There are many ways to do this ranging from micro-reflective structures in the material that reflect direct light while essentially absorbing indirect light to creating a highly reflective base coated by enough contrast layers to effectively filter out the bulk of ambient light while magnifying direct light into a more brighter and narrower half-gain cone.

Elite Screens’ DarkStar material, which can accommodate 4K and the forthcoming 8K resolution, utilizes retro-reflective micro-structures in conjunction with contrast layers to provide what Rodgers called “an extremely high-quality image with sharp color reproduction and contrast” in addition to image brightness while negating the washout effects of ambient light. The surface is so fine that the DarkStar can accommodate up to 4K and even the coming wave of 8K resolution projectors.

Wanting to empower integrators to provide comparable, if not an improved, big-screen experience versus the flat-panel TV experience, Screen Innovations created Zero Edge with either Black Diamond or Slate materials.

“As an industry, we need to get back to our roots and demo two-piece projection systems showing living/multi-purpose room environments as well as dedicated theater rooms,” said Blake Vackar, SI’s sales director, residential, who went on to note that the Zero Edge and all of its followers realize that the projection screen cannot look like a projection screen in the living room.

“The screen must look like it belongs in the space, and that means thin bezels and not 3.5-inch felt-lined frames that simply look out of place anywhere but a dedicated theater,” Blake said. “If we realize the promise of the home theater in any room, then it is just as critical how our screens look when not in use as how they perform when the projector is on.”

Ambient-Visionaire by Seymour-Screen Excellence debuted last month and takes what the company considers a unique approach to filtering ambient light: a solid (non-acoustically transparent) screen surface that is comprised of billions of nano-mirrors, dithered at the desired viewing angle, and layered so that side light (from any direction) will be absorbed by carbon particles and the substrate.

“By shrinking the reflective elements down to less than 1/10th the smallest size visible by the human eye, the screen cannot create a discrete sparkle,” explained Chris Seymour, managing director for SSE. “They are so small and dense, that a 16K resolution pixel would have over 300 mirrors to itself; a 4K pixel would have nearly 5,000. With this more efficient method of selectively reflecting the projected image versus ambient light, the Ambient-Visionaire screen offers the reference quality color uniformity that Seymour-Screen Excellence is known for without exhibiting any color shift, sparkles, or ringing.”

Stewart Filmscreen’s Peter Brown said the company has been fielding more and more requests for screen systems that work well in higher ambient light environments, which explains the popularity of its FireHawk screen material.

“[We] used the recently completed CEDIA EXPO to explain color response and uniformity benefits of FireHawk G4 over competitive solutions,” said Brown, who is VP of sales and marketing for Stewart Filmscreen. “In fact, our lab tests have proven that the accuracy of FireHawk is significantly better than other popular solutions developed for high ambient light environments. This translates to a much better and far more immersive viewing experience, something that remains a critical factor for us when introducing screen materials.”

With the belief that two-piece projection is coming full circle, Vutec promotes the company’s range of Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) certified screens, which focus on gain. To reproduce the richness and depth of color produced by 4K projectors, Draper’s TecVision projection surfaces utilizes Engineered Screen Technology to provide excellent color reproduction (it is ISF Certified) while overcoming moderate ambient light in the room.

“Much has been made about 4K not creating a significant difference in resolution when it comes to TVs, but with the larger images available with front projection, 4K projectors produce stunning images,” said Bob Hadsell, home theater sales manager for Draper. “Integrators are searching for the projectors that display the content and screens that do not interfere with the resolution. As for ambient light, many consumers have as a point of reference direct-view TV, so they expect excellent, bright images that can be viewed without darkening the room. As projectors have not only gained in resolution but in light output, integrators have a better opportunity to create large images that the consumer can appreciate.”

Acknowledging that ALR is the hottest technology driving projection screen manufacturing at the moment, Da-Lite’s senior marketing manager, Melissa Rone, pointed to an even newer technology, Parallax, which the company is slated to bring to market in early 2015.

“It is made of multiple layers to achieve its light blocking properties and superior viewing angles,” Rone explained. “It is designed to maintain higher contrast and color saturation in brightly lit environments. Ultra HD/4K requires a surface that can match the projector. A high-resolution projector needs a high-resolution surface. HD Progressive is the 4K-ready surface specifically formulated by Da-Lite’s in-house team of chemists for 4K.”

For practical and aesthetic considerations, AV Stumpfl’s framed screen, DecoFrame, is customizable to any aspect ratio to fit any wall needed for projection within a polished frame.

“Flexibility is the greatest innovation in technology,” said Franklin Moore, president of the company. “AV Stumpfl provides custom screens adapted to fit any space in front or rear projection. Custom solutions provide the proper configurations to address the complexities of 3D projection, ambient lighting, 4K projectors, narrow view and high gain to name a few. With the multitude of options in our projection screen materials, we are able to provide a single frame design to the consumer at a reasonable price point.”

Where sound stage solutions are needed, Severtson Screens’ TAT-4K Titanium Acoustically-Transparent screens offer a uniform pattern weave that reflects “virtually no audio or video scatter,” according Kjell Larson, the company’s national sales manager for home cinema. “The titanium-grey shade on the TAT-4K preserves picture contrast even in rooms that are not completely dark, so you get a crisp image that will amaze viewers. With virtually no screen size limitations, the entire sound stage can be placed directly behind the screen at the same horizontal axis, allowing the audio track to be in perfect sync with the brilliant images on display. The TAT-4K screen meets and exceeds all industry standards for optimum video and acoustic performance, with reference quality reproduction of the digital image combined with true fidelity to the soundtrack.”

With the belief that two-piece projection is coming full circle, Dan Drook, vice president of sales and marketing for Vutec, highlighted the company’s range of Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) certified screens, which focus on gain.

“Our ISF screen gains register from 0.08 up to 2.2,” Drook explained. “However, each gain has an application such as a dedicated theater (dark room) or media room where ambient light plays a factor. If there is a question about what two-piece projections products work, the integrator should ask their suppliers for a recommendation. Other factors play a part, such as seating arrangement. Our Vision X line of screens coupled with an ISF screen is perfect for these scenarios.”

Lighting the Way

One of the grumbles against projection-based home cinemas has always been the maintenance and iffy life expectancy of projectors, but as LED and laser lighting technology continues to develop, more and more manufacturers are integrating these features into their projectors, with the benefits being, as Sony’s Floyd pointed out, long life, good colorimetry, and linear gradation.

“Alternative illumination will continue to dominate the top-end of the precision projector market,” said Digital Projection’s Bridwell, “and you’ll likely see solutions introduced that bring the long-term cost of ownership savings, as well as the color performance, in other tiers of the market in the years to come.”

Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor for Residential Systems.